This story has not been covered as extensively as it should and it involves Ring Cameras, the doorbell camera company seen on many houses today and owned by Amazon. A report in the Verge found that the company allows law enforcement to access Ring footage without the consent of the owner of the home 11 times in the past seven months.
The Amazon company told Massachusetts Democrat Senator Ed Markey in a letter dated July 1rst that they had done this and it was then sent to the press. It brings up many issues of privacy. Do we really trust unnamed people at Amazon to define what is an emergency for our families? These are important questions.
“This revelation is particularly troubling given that the company has previously admitted to having no policies that restrict how law enforcement can use Ring users’ footage, no data security requirements for law enforcement entities that have users’ footage, and no policies that prohibit law enforcement officers from keeping Ring users’ footage forever,” he told The Intercept.
Read Markey’s questions about the Ring cameras here below from an email provided to the Verge.
“Ring has stated that it will not share “customer information” with law enforcement absent consent, a warrant, or “an exigent or emergency” circumstance,” asked Markey in his email.
“As stated in Ring’s law enforcement guidelines, Ring reserves the right to respond immediately to urgent law enforcement requests for information in cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person. Emergency disclosure requests must be accompanied by a completed emergency request form. Based on the information provided in the emergency request form and the circumstances described by the officer, Ring makes a good-faith determination whether the request meets the well-known standard, grounded in federal law, that there is imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requiring disclosure of information without delay,” Amazon replied to the Senator.
That’s quite the response and just to be clear they are referring form available to investigators that you can see here for law enforcement from Amazon. They also have a separate pdf application form for Ring which you can see here.
Markey then asked them a follow up question and the story gets more interesting.
How many times has Ring shared a user’s recordings with law enforcement because of an “exigent or emergency” circumstance?
“So far this year, Ring has provided videos to law enforcement in response to an emergency request only 11 times. In each instance, Ring made a good-faith determination that there was an imminent danger of death or serious injury to a person requiring disclosure of information without delay.”
This means that Ring has given away the information of their users without their consent. They may have saved lives by doing so and those situations may have been emergencies, but who makes that decision? It’s not the person who owns the property and brings into question what that means for our fourth amendment.
Amazon is correct that currently under federal law nothing stops them from doing this. 18 US § 2702 (b) (8) says, “if the provider, in good faith, believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay.”
Amazon has partnered with 2,161 law enforcement agencies so far and has used that as a marketing point for the product. This is the same company that it came out that employees are listening to conversations from their popular voice controlled Alexa devices.
These are important questions and hundreds of thousands of homes across have these Ring cameras in front of their house. We’ve all seen the videos on social media of thieves being caught on the cameras. It’s a good selling point and they do market them as partnered with law enforcement, but again, who decides what footage is turned over the police? It seems it’s not you. Do you think this violates your fourth amendment rights?